Celebrity magazines are filled with the proclamations of relationship experts who think they can determine whether a couple is in love or on the outs based on a simple photo. But in the digital age, reading body language isn't enough: To judge a couple's status, you need to be able to read between the tweets. Rupert Murdoch and someone claiming to be his wife, Wendi Deng, joined the ranks of the Twitterati in the last few days, causing media outlets to ordain them the new Twitter celebrity couple to watch. (The Deng account wound up being fake.) Meanwhile, Katy Perry and Russell Brand, longtime tweeters, have called it quits. What can we infer of a couple's offline relationship from their online one?
One reason the Wendi Deng account seemed so believable was that it was filled with 140-character bursts of affection. "@rupertmurdoch happy 2012 to u too sweetheart. I LOVE U!!!" she tweeted on the 1st. "@rupertmurdoch love u! but u work too hard sweets!" she tweeted, again on the 1st. When the Rupe tweeted, "Maybe Brits have too many holidays for broke country!" she replied, "@rupertmurdoch RUPERT!!! delete tweet!" Remarkably, it seems he did so—meaning that the Deng impersonation may not only have duped Twitter (which awarded it a confirmed account briefly), but even Murdoch himself.
Viewing Perry's and Brand's Twitter feeds with the benefit of hindsight, though, perhaps it's no surprise the couple are splitting. Once upon a time, the two regaled their millions of followers with digital public displays of affection. "@katyperry I'm hosting my own awards (#RBMA's) you win. See you wednesday (in LA)," Brand tweeted, together with a picture of him holding out a flower, in September of 2010. Other tweets were much racier: "@katyperry my darling, for me an 'In and out burger' is an entirely different thing and infinitely more delicious," he wrote in late November of 2010. To which she replied, cutely: "@rustyrockets you're a sicko!"
In recent months, though, the affectionate tweeting dried up. Had things already soured when Perry retweeted her husband?: "I'll RT this out of loyalty even though I feel personally connected to the insults! Ha! RT @rustyrockets: I'll marry u! http://bit.ly/p3QApG." In the video, Brand performs a marriage during a standup show, saying: "Will you promise to take care of Scarlett, to love her, to honor her, even the 4 days of every month where she’s a total asshole?" Brand's last @mention of his wife came in October. He re-tweeted her comment that they had watched "Forks Over Knives," a documentary on processed foods, on Netflix.
What makes a marriage—be it real or fake—succeed on Twitter? Here are a few more celebrity couples and representative tweets: some the cooing of lovebirds, others the chirping of canaries in coal mines.
Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore: Early adopters among the married-on-Twitter set, news of the couple's impending divorce emerged in November. Kutcher semi-famously tweeted a picture of his wife's rear end in March of 2009. In June of this year, the seemingly happy couple went fly-fishing. By November, it was all over, with Ashton tweeting: "marriage is one of the most difficult things in the world and unfortunately sometimes they fail." The Twitter divorce won't be smooth: Demi's handle is @mrskutcher.
Jessica Alba and Cash Warren: A mixture of playfulness and joyful tweeting about their children bodes well for this celebrity couple. "I feel like a nervous teenager. date night with the wife. first time out together since Haven was born! I'm gonna get her drunk #pump&dump," Warren tweeted in August.
Ellen Barkin and Sam Levinson: The 57-year-old actress, who has reportedly taken up with the twentysomething actor/director son of Barry Levinson, has one of the angriest accounts on Twitter right now. The two have channeled their energies into Occupy Wall Street activism, with Levinson recently publishing a TwitVid of Barkin apparently being shoved by a policeman. With passions running this high, a long-term assessment of the relationship would be premature.
Seal and Heidi Klum: To judge from Klum's enamored Twitter pics, these two couldn't be happier. "Sun and Snow and @Seal," Klum tweeted the day after Christmas, with a photo of the two smiling and hugging. "My love on stage in Munich. AMAZING I love you Baby!" she tweeted earlier in December. If the two are on the rocks, they're doing a fantastic job hiding it.
Nicole Ritchie and Joel Madden: This couple embodies what seems to be the single best piece of advice for those embarking on a Twitter marriage: Keep it playful. When Ritchie tweeted a picture of herself in an evening gown, Madden replied, "aahh ooooooogah!!!!" A month ago, Madden tweeted, "'@nicolerichie: If U don't like Mariah Carey & 98 degrees song 'Thank God I Found You', I don't think we can be friends'...can we be married?"
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[Image: Flickr user Beacon Radio]